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Uzbekistan looking to solar power
While using solar power is a good idea, it is a difficult plan to implement without overhauling the country's infrastructure, observers say.
By Shakar Saadi
TASHKENT – Uzbekistan is turning to solar power to solve its energy crisis, with construction to begin around 2015, according to a government announcement issued at the end of November.
Some observers say the idea could be realised, while others say that despite the urgent need for such a project, implementing it in the near future would difficult, since the country's entire energy infrastructure would need to be rebuilt.
With that challenge in mind, the plan is designed to be carried out over 10 years, Energy Ministry representative Vosif K. said. "This is a very large-scale campaign, which will affect the entire country."
Regardless of what power choice is used, the country's energy infrastructure is not designed to handle today's high demands for electricity, Sayfulla Nigmanov, an employee of the state joint-stock company Uzbekenergo, said.
"There are a special set of issues to deal with when rebuilding the energy infrastructure to handle solar power," he said.
"It involves systemic reconstruction, which today presents a host of difficulties for various reasons."
A lack of funding and corruption are the main obstacles to rebuilding the infrastructure, Nigamov said. Moreover, manufacturing the components used to make solar panels, batteries, automatic control systems, and other related equipment is difficult from a technological standpoint and very expensive.
"Producing quality solar cells requires working with rare-earth metals, such as silicon, indium, and gallium," he said. "Where are we going to get them from?"
An investment worthwhile
Despite the difficulties, Uzbekistan sees the project as a worthy venture, saying it will ease any electricity shortages.
"We won't have any more problems with electricity – we'll use the sun's energy, which we have more than enough of," Vosif said in support of the solar project.
The process will be expensive and time-consuming, but "eventually the whole world will switch to using renewable sources of energy, and we should do likewise," he said.
Addressing concerns about the rare metals, Uzbekistan plans to purchase them from Kazakhstan, he said.
The country will carry out the entire process, and discussions about where to find additional financial backing and attract investment for the project are on-going, he said.
Solar institute to be developed, too
Others look at the prospect with more guarded optimism, with consulting firm analyst Zarifa Shadmanova saying only time will tell how much of the project will be realised in Uzbekistan.
Still, the country is planning to found the International Institute of Solar Energy with the help of the Scientific Production Association Sun Physics of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other international financial institutions, she added.
The Uzbek government and the ADB are granting UZS 6.6 billion (US $3m) in technical assistance as part of a joint venture to found the institute, which will be built between 2013 and 2015 and will research solar energy, Vosif said.
It will take time for it to define its field of research, generate results and discuss them with more advanced peers.
Afterward they will begin to install solar panels, update systems and carry out other work to see the project through.
Uzbekistan has considerable scientific and technical potential, and researchers have accomplished a large amount of engineering and technological developments in the design and use of solar energy, Uzbek Academy of Sciences Presidium employee Nurmuhammad Yulchiev said. "However, we must recognise the fact that many experts are of a very advanced age, and talented young people prefer to conduct research abroad."
"Above all else, the institute needs to be organised and only afterward begin to work on designing solar infrastructure, Sun Physics researcher Rustam Rakhimov said, noting that it needs to be paired with the country's existing structure.